Composition of more than 2,000 years old medicinal tablet

Ancient pill (Credit: PNAS/Giachi et. al.)Researchers have found that for people used almost similar ingredients for the preparation of the medicines used for ophthalmic purposes in the 2nd century B.C.

This research has been published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Researchers in this study investigated nearly 2,200 years old tablet obtained from the airtight container present in the Pozzino shipwreck discovered at the coast of Italy in the late 1980s. Preliminary DNA analysis of the tablets in 2010 showed a number of herbal compounds including carrots, parsley and wild onion, bound by clay. However, the total composition and the medicinal characteristics have been done recently using a combination of analytical techniques, such as mass spectrometry, X-ray diffraction, and spectroscopy.

Researchers found that the inorganic chemicals accounted for 80% of the total sample. Almost three quarters of the inorganic chemicals is zinc, in the form of hydrozincite and smithsonite minerals. Remaining 20% was made up of organic chemicals such as wheat flour, vegetable and animal fats, beeswax, pollen grains, and other herbs.

“The research highlights the presence of zinc compounds as the active ingredients,” Gianna Giachi, a chemist at the Superintendence for the Archaeological Heritage of Tuscanyin Florence, Italy, said in a statement.

Zinc is used in a variety of purposes from nutritional supplements to protection against cold. It can also be used for dermatological conditions and to relieve general eye conditions. Researchers are of the opinion that these tablets were used for the ophthalmic purposes. They based their hypothesis on the form of the discs and the Latin etymology in texts from that time period.

Researchers wrote, “This study provided valuable information on ancient medical and pharmaceutical practices and on the development of pharmacology and medicine over the centuries. In addition, given the current focus on natural compounds, our data could lead to new investigations and research for therapeutic care.”


Gianna Giachi, Pasquino Pallecchi, Antonella Romualdi, Erika Ribechini, Jeannette Jacqueline Lucejko, Maria Perla Colombini, and Marta Mariotti Lippi, (2013). Ingredients of a 2,000-y-old medicine revealed by chemical, mineralogical, and botanical investigations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1216776110

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